Woods Sets High Expectations in Motion

By Associated PressJanuary 31, 2006, 5:00 pm
SAN DIEGO -- Tiger Woods stepped into the chill of the evening and headed to the airport for a 20-hour flight to Dubai, plenty of time to contemplate how fortunate he was to escape Torrey Pines with another victory and to wonder where it will take him the rest of the year.
Expectations figure to be greater than ever.
Woods once said the public tends to exaggerate the state of his game, perhaps because he can make it look easy. Win one tournament and people say he's unbeatable. Go a month without winning and he's in a slump.
'I've been out here long enough to have seen both ends of the spectrums,' Woods said of the expectations. 'They're always high. They've seen what I can do, and they think I can hit some shots. It's awfully nice that they think I can do that.'
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods ran his record to 9-1 in PGA Tour playoffs.
But his track record suggests another big year could be in the making.
His playoff victory Sunday in the Buick Invitational was the fourth time in his 10 years on the PGA Tour that Woods began the season with a victory. Each time, more trophies quickly followed.
In his first full season, he beat Tom Lehman in the '97 Mercedes Championships at La Costa by sticking a 7-iron inches from the cup on the first playoff hole. Three months later, the legend was born when he overwhelmed Augusta National to win the Masters by 12 shots.
Woods opened his historic 2000 season at Kapalua in a terrific battle with Ernie Els, matching eagles and birdies on the 18th hole before beating the Big Easy on the second playoff hole with a 40-foot birdie putt. By year's end, he had three straight majors among his nine victories.
And when he missed eight weeks recovering from knee surgery, Woods returned to the PGA Tour in 2003 by shutting down Phil Mickelson and his 'inferior equipment' comments to win by four shots at Torrey Pines. Woods won two of his next three starts, including an 11-shot victory at Bay Hill, and ended the year with five wins.
Woods came close to missing out on the three-man playoff Sunday.
He was in an eight-way tie for the lead with six holes to play on the South Course, and was lucky no one else got hot enough to pull away. Struggling with the speed of the bumpy, poa annua greens throughout the final round, Woods three-putted three times, yet came up with two big par saves on the 16th and 17th.
And after running a length-of-the-green eagle putt 8 feet by the hole on the par-5 18th, he steadied himself to pour in the birdie putt to join Jose Maria Olazabal and Australian rookie Nathan Green in the playoff.
'Quite frankly, I shouldn't have even been in the playoff,' Woods said.
From there, the outcome was no surprise.
Woods had two putts to win -- an 8-footer on the 18th in the playoff, and a 35-footer on the par-3 16th -- but got through when his opponents faltered. From about 40 feet away, Green took three shots to reach the green on the 18th and made bogey. On the next hole, Olazabal failed to capitalize on a sensational bunker shot by missing a tricky 4-foot par putt down the hill.
Woods now is 9-1 in playoffs on the PGA Tour, and 12-1 worldwide. Billy Mayfair has become the answer to a trivia question as the only player to beat him (in the '98 Nissan Open at Valencia).
Along with his record, however, there is another reason why expectations are rising.
A year ago, Woods won at Torrey Pines in the fog by overcoming a two-shot deficit on the back nine to surge past Lehman and Luke Donald. It was an important victory, because it ended a 16-month drought of stroke-play titles on the PGA Tour while Woods retooled his swing.
He spent the rest of 2005 alternating between brilliant and ordinary -- two majors (the Masters and British Open), six victories, but also two missed cuts.
A year later, he is much closer to understanding his swing and learning how to fix it when it goes bad.
Woods took the longest self-imposed break of his career -- six weeks, not even touching a club the first 24 days -- and there was sure to be some rust. But he corrected his problems in a hurry.
He started the Buick Invitational by hitting only one out of 14 fairways on the pitch-and-putt North Course and shooting 71. But on the back nine of the South Course on the weekend, when he could have easily slipped out of contention, he rarely missed a tee shot.
He hit all but one of the final six fairways Sunday to give himself a chance.
'It's always more meaningful to do it whenever you have to,' Woods said. 'I had no choice. I had to hit the ball in play to give myself chances because I was behind. On the back nine, hitting the shots like I did off the tees, it felt just as good as hitting those last two shots at Augusta, when I absolutely had to.'
The reference was to his playoff victory in the Masters last year. His best two shots were on the first extra hole, when he hit 3-wood in play and 8-iron to 15 feet for his fourth green jacket.
The Masters is more than two months away, and Woods will have six more tournaments to get ready. That starts this week at the Dubai Desert Classic, a field that includes Ernie Els.
'Last year, I had a long way to go. I had a lot of different things I needed to fix to be ready for Augusta,' Woods said. 'This year, the list is a lot shorter, and the changes aren't as big. From that standpoint, I've got a head start.'
And winning his first event of the year never hurts.
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    Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

    Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

    While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

    “I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

    Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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    DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

    Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

    “I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

    Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

    “Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

    Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

    “It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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    Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

    What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

    Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    “I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

    McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

    He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

    Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

    “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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    Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

    Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

    Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

    Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

    Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

    Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.